Stand up to bullying by the biotech industry (11/3/2008)

NOTE: Excellent article on the false claims currently being made around GM animal feed and how to help farmers and consumers in relation to this important issue.


GM food and farming update
By Michael O'Callaghan and Helen Holder*
Organic Matters magazine, March/April 2008

The GM-Free Ireland campaign won a major victory last summer when the new Government announced its intention to declare the whole island of Ireland as a GMO-free zone, in collaboration with the NI Assembly. The aim is to prohibit any release of genetically modified (GM) seeds, crops, trees, crustaceans, fish, poultry, and livestock, and to encourage a voluntary phase-out of the GM animal feed (GM maize gluten, distillers grains, soya meal and oilseed rape) used by conventional farmers.

Implementing this policy is essential to protect conventional and organic farmers and food producers, since live GMOs would contaminate our food chain in perpetuity; they would create a bureaucratic nightmare of GM testing, liability insurance, contamination and patent infringement lawsuits, and cause organic farmers to lose their certification. Because of our geographical isolation and clean green image, a ban on GM crops and livestock would give Irish farmers and food producers the competitive advantage of the most credible safe GM-free food brand in Europe.

False claims

The government's announcement triggered a backlash from the European Commission's DG Agriculture, the biotech and animal feed industries, and their friends in Teagasc and the IFA. They claimed that GM policies in Ireland and the EU are responsible for a crisis in the livestock industry caused by a global rise in the cost of animal feed. Widely disseminated by the Irish Farmers Journal and other print media, this scaremongering is an attempt to weaken Irish and EU GMO policies when the worldwide shortage of feed crops is really caused by poor weather conditions and the rush for agrofuels.

The GM spin doctors claim that rising prices are due to the EU's health and safety laws on GMOs ('asynchronous' approvals whereby GMOs are authorised more slowly in the EU than in the US, and the 'zero tolerance' standard whereby any imports to the EU contaminated by GMOs not authorised in the EU are blocked). They claim these laws and standards could result in a major lack of feed imports into Europe; that China and other emerging markets will import GMOs and therefore the EU will no longer have leverage to demand non GM maize and soy from the main exporters; and that European farmers could be forced into the wholesale slaughter of their livestock due to a shortage of animal feed. They are calling for GMO approvals to be speeded up in line with the US, and for the 'zero tolerance' standard to be reviewed so that any contamination from a GMO not yet authorized in the EU but having passed a safety assessment equivalent to that required in the EU be allowed for import to the EU.

Absence of US regulations

In reality, 'Asynchronous' approval of new GM crops between the US and the EU has virtually no impact on EU feed imports. There is no approvals system for GM foods or crops in the USA. Companies wishing to commercialise a GMO there have no obligation to consult the Food and Drug Agency, and there are no specific laws for GMOs. A safety assessment is only required if the company presents evidence that this is needed, and no company has ever done this. GMO commercialization in the US is therefore due to the total absence of health and safety procedure. The US process for authorising GMOs does not meet the international requirements of the United Nations' Codex Alimentarius, which are considered as the standard by the World Trade Organisation's trade dispute body. Furthermore, the US is not a signatory to the UN Biosafety Protocol. Key exporters such as Brazil and Argentina are attentive to EU market demands, and Brazil in particular has GMO laws in place closer to the EU system than the US.

China has been cited as a threat to the EU supply of non-GM animal feed based on the idea that it has no health and safety requirements and so will import cheap GM feed. This could allegedly make feed producers move to GM varieties that are not authorized in the EU, thus cutting off feed for the EU market. In reality, China has a more precautionary approach to GMOs than the US, and is getting stricter because of the valuable premia for non-GM soy in EU and Japanese markets.

Global rise in feed costs

Rising feed costs are being blamed for serious problems facing producers in the EU, allegedly because of EU GMOs laws and the higher cost of non GM animal feed compared to GM feed. In reality, rising feed costs are also a problem in Canada, Australia, the US and China. Rising feed prices in the pig industry are due to recent price hikes for wheat and barley, and shortages of feed wheat. Prior to the US government's targets on ethanol production, the price of maize was tied to the price of food, but it is now strongly linked to the rising price of crude oil. However, in comparison to wheat, prices for maize in the EU have not risen to the same extent. The policies most responsible for the current problems facing the feed industry are the US government's promotion of ethanol and the EU's biofuels targets.

What should the Irish Government, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the EU do? Ireland is the EU's largest importer of animal feed, and the EU is one of the world's biggest trading blocks. We should use this clout to encourage our animal feed industry to import and/or produce non GM feed, and defend health and safety standards for people, animals and the environment. We should call on the European Commission, Member States and Members of the European Parliament to:

*Help the Irish and EU livestock industry to source GM free animal feed;

*Support the one million citizens that have signed a petition calling for products from animals fed with GM feed to be labelled;

*Support countries such as Argentina and Brazil to establish assessment procedures comparable to international guidelines and the EU's own standards;

*Develop strict traceability and liability systems whereby the biotech companies - the polluters - pay and not the livestock importer, farmer or consumer.

*Stand up to bullying from the biotech industry and the US administration

*Drop the EU target that all fuels for transport contain at least 10 percent agrofuels by 2020.

For more information contact GM-free Ireland on (0404) 43 885 - www.gmfreeireland.org

*Michael O'Callaghan (GM-free Ireland) and Helen Holder (Friends of the Earth Europe)

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